Tomb of Sand, the English translation of Geetanjali Shree’s Hindi original Ret Samadhi, has created history by becoming the first Indian novel translation to make it to the prestigious International Booker Prize shortlist. Penguin India released the English translation of Ret Samadhi in the subcontinent last month.
Shree’s book, translated into English by Daisy Rockwell, is among the six books shortlisted for the coveted prize. The GBP 50,000 (approximately Rs 50 lakh) prize will be shared by the author and the translator.
The International Booker received a record 135 submissions this year. The International Booker Prize is awarded each year to a book translated into English and published either in the UK or Ireland. Starting this year, the Booker Prize has increased the prize money for shortlisted authors and translators from GBP 1,000 (approximately Rs 1 lakh) to GBP 2,500 (approximately Rs 2.48 lakh). This brings the total value of the literary awards to GBP 80,000 (approximately Rs 80 lakh).
The five other works shortlisted for the prestigious translation into English award are the short story compilation Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated from Korean by Anton Hur; Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, translated from Japanese by Samuel Bett and David Boyd; The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Jennifer Croft; crime novel Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle; and, A New Name: Septology VI-VII by Jon Fosse, translated from Norwegian by Damion Searls. The shortlist was announced at the London Book Fair on 7 April, and is dominated by women authors. Olga Tokarczuk won the Booker in 2018 for her acclaimed novel Flights.
About Tomb of Sand, the judges panel said, “Daisy Rockwell’s spirited translation rises admirably to the complexity of the text, which is full of wordplay and verve.” Shree’s “loud and irresistible novel” has also won the English Pen Award.
Frank Wynne, the first translator to lead the Booker judges, who announced the shortlist on his 60th birthday, explained, “Translation is an intimate, intricate dance that crosses borders, cultures, and languages. There is little to compare to the awe and exhilaration of discovering a perfect pairing of writer and translator?
“These six titles from six languages explore the borders and boundaries of human experience, whether haunting and surreal, poignant and tender, or exuberant and capricious. In their differences, they offer glimpses of literature from around the world, but they all share fierce and breath-taking originality that is a testament to the endless inventiveness of fiction.”
At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop, translated from French by Anna Moschovakis was the 2021 winner while The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas, translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchison won the International Booker in pandemic year 2020.
Tomb of Sand‘s publisher Tilted Axis has been nominated for the International Booker Prize for the first time in its 17-year history. Tilted Axis had two other titles in this year’s longlist – Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated from Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao; and Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park, translated from Korean by Anton Hur. Honford Star is another publisher that made it to the list for the first time.
Other members on this year’s judging panel are Zimbabwean lawyer and writer Petina Gappah; Turkish-American academic, writer, and literary critic Merve Emre; British journalist, author, and comedian Viv Groskop; and Singaporean author, translator, and playwright Jeremy Tiang.
Shree – a frequently translated writer
Hailing from small-town Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh, 64-year-old Shree has several novels and short story compilations to her credit, with her titles being translated into German, French, Korean, and Serbian, apart from English. Her critically acclaimed works include Mai, Hamara Shahar Us Baras, and Tirohit. This is one of her first works to be published in the UK.
An alumnus of Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, Shree went on to pursue masters in Modern Indian History from the city’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. Shree has also received the Hutch-Crossword Translation Award (2000), Indu Sharma award, Hindi Akademi Sahityakar Sammaan, and Dwijdev Sammaan for her noteworthy contribution to Hindi literature.
Shree shared her excitement in a press release from her Hindi Rajkamal, “It is recognition of a very special kind. When a work appeals to unknown people sitting in faraway places, then it must have the ability to transcend its specific cultural context and touch the universal and the human. That is true ratification. The work must be good, the translation must be excellent! It is a great moment for Daisy and me. Shows how rich our dialog has been. That is what translation is about.”
Ashok Maheshwari, managing director – Rajkamal Prakashan, the original publisher of Ret Samadhi in Hindi shared his happiness on the novel being shortlisted for International Booker Prize, saying that excellent writing in Hindi and other Indian languages is attracting global attention.
Daisy Rockwell – biographer and translator
US-based Daisy Rockwell has translated diverse Hindi and Urdu works into English. She is the author of Upendranath Ashk: A Critical Biography, The Little Book of Terror and Taste, apart from her many essays on literature.
Rockwell won the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize by the Modern Language Association of America in 2020 for her translation of A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There. Her other translations include Falling Walls by Upendranath Ashk and Bhisham Sahni’s epic partition masterpiece Tamas.
Kanishka Gupta, CEO of Writer’s Side which represents Rockwell shares in an exclusive chat with Indian Printer & Publisher, “This is unprecedented. This has never happened before. I don’t know why people are just saying Hindi translation, because no South Asian language has appeared on the International Booker shortlist. It is a first, it is good to be part of a historic moment like this.”
This is the second book represented by the Indian literary agency to be shortlisted for the Booker. New Delhi-based Shree is now looking forward to attending the Booker Prize 2022 award ceremony on 26 May in London.